New initiatives to help women feel safe on Sydney streets are welcome

New initiatives to help women feel safe on Sydney streets are welcome

A study released today reveals the prevalence and spread of locations where women are experiencing street harassment. 

The study, a collaborative effort between Plan International Australia and Monash University, harnesses the university’s Safer Cities Free to Be app that gives women the opportunity to anonymously record incidents of street harassment. Harassment can be of any degree or severity; from cat-calling to stalking, threatening behaviour and physical and sexual assault. 

The technology was given to women across five different cities across the globe: Sydney, Madrid, Lima, Kampala and Delhi.

The report, titled “Reporting to Authorities”, found that a total of 14,500 were recorded. From that total, 1,270 were reported to authorities, yet only 418 (33%) of those reports were acted upon. Sydney came out as the city most likely to act upon incidents reported, with over one in three cases resulting in action from authorities.

In cities like Dehli and Lima, the news was not as positive. Not only are women often not taken seriously when they take reports to authorities, they are often trivialised, belittled, disbelieved and dismissed, the research found.

Tying in with this, the NSW Government recently launched a new initiative calling on businesses and startups to help create technology and innovations to increase women’s safety. Yesterday, a ‘Women and Safety in the City Symposium’ was held where a Charter for women and girls’ safety was announced. The event partnered with Transport NSW and the Greater Sydney Commission, and was attended by Chief Commissioner Lucy Turnbull AO.

“Nothing affects a woman’s ability to enjoy the city more than not feeling safe,” Turnbull said. “Research indicates that when women are or feel unsafe, they’ll quit jobs that require them to work late, stop socialising at night with friends and even limit their access to night classes and further education.”

A Transport NSW spokesperson said in a statement, “This is another great example of government coming together with industry and other partners to solve complex issues for improved community safety.”

“We’ve already increased the number of CCTV cameras, with over 10,000 across the train network and more than 30,000 on buses across the state. There are emergency help points on every train and platform and staff are trained to support anyone who may feel threatened.”

Plan International Australia CEO Susanne Legena believes that initiatives like the Free To Be app will engage women to fight against the “damaging and harrowing” side effects of being ignored and dismissed  when reporting harassment.

“Authorities need to pay attention to what’s happening here,” she says. “It takes a lot of courage to report harassment, but it’s clear that even when girls do report, they are not taken seriously or the system isn’t set up to support them. Too many of these reports just fall into the cracks.”

Legena also called on those in power to shift their protocols. “Authorities need to encourage girls and young women to report instances of harassment, improve the responses they receive from authorities, and invest in public awareness and behaviour change campaigns,” she said. 

“Our messages is that every single report needs to be taken seriously and the system needs to change to ensure there’s a clear process for reporting. Unless and until this happens, the cycle of underreporting, internalisation and social acceptance of street harassment will continue.”

The initiative from “Women and Safety in the City Symposium” promises good news and positive change.

“There is a lot more work to do and we want to find new innovative ways to ensure every woman feels protected moving around our state, no matter what time of day,” the spokesperson from NSW Transport said.

The state transportation branch will continue its engagement and collaboration with Committee for Sydney, advocacy groups and women who have experienced safety issues. Yesterday’s symposium collected representatives from government, business and the not-for-profit sector to explore ways of making Greater Sydney a city where all women can feel safe.

Turnbull agrees, stating improvements can be made through better “design of public spaces, education campaigns about what women can do when harassed, training workers on what to do when a woman reports harassment and encouraging reporting by victims or bystanders when harassment is experienced.”

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